Chicago Police Chief Fired in Fallout From Shooting Video

  • Mayor Emanuel says `fresh eyes' needed to lead department
  • Community leaders, editorial boards had called for dismissal

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel dismissed Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, attempting to limit political damage a week after the city released a video showing a white police officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times.

“This morning, I formally asked for his resignation,” Emanuel said at a news conference where he also announced a task force to review oversight and training of police. “Now’s the time for fresh eyes and new leadership.”

The city has so far eluded the violence that followed protests of deaths at the hands of police in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. But Emanuel couldn’t avoid fallout from critics who accused him of delaying the video during a tough re-election campaign this year. His administration had sought to block the video’s release until a judge last month ordered it to show the footage of the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Community leaders and demonstrators had been calling for McCarthy’s ouster and demanding to know why it took 13 months to indict Officer Jason Van Dyke and release the video. Hundreds of protesters have marched through Chicago since the video’s release; on Friday, they blocked stores along the city’s premier retail stretch.

Emanuel said Tuesday that McCarthy had become an obstacle in the administration’s effort to rebuild trust, even as leaders in the black community are demanding a broader federal investigation into what they’ve called a cover-up. The Justice Department and federal prosecutors are investigating whether the case was handled properly. Emanuel said the city handed “every piece” of evidence to those authorities within weeks of the incident.

Referring to McCarthy, he said, “I have a lot of support and confidence in the work and the results that he’s done. Our goal, as I would say to you, is to build the trust and confidence of the public. He has become an issue, rather than dealing with the issue, and a distraction.”

McCarthy deputy John Escalante will be acting superintendent until the police board finds a replacement, the mayor said.

Emanuel commended McCarthy’s four-and-a-half year tenure, during which, he said, community policing led to the lowest overall crime rate on record. He also praised McCarthy’s efforts to get guns off Chicago streets.

The city council’s Black Caucus and the editorial boards of the Sun-Times and Washington Post had called for McCarthy’s removal. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told Emanuel in a phone call Friday that McCarthy should resign, according to her spokesman, Frank Shuftan.

Alderman Howard Brookins, a member of the Black Caucus, applauded McCarthy’s dismissal. “I appreciate the mayor’s willingness to change course and to make the right decision,” he said in a news release.

The dashboard-camera footage, released after a free-lance journalist sued, shows Van Dyke shooting McDonald even after he fell to the ground. The city posted the video Nov. 24, about seven hours after Cook County prosecutors charged Van Dyke, 37, with first-degree murder. Van Dyke’s lawyer has said the shooting was justified because the officer feared for his life.

Emanuel said McDonald’s family contacted the city on Feb. 27 to discuss a settlement. That was three days after he was forced into a runoff campaign. The council approved a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family in April, eight days after Emanuel won a second term.

The task force he announced Tuesday will recommend changes to improve independent oversight of misconduct and “establish best practice for release of videos of police-involved incidents,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts and a Chicago native, will be a senior adviser to the task force, which will present its recommendations to Emanuel and the city council by March 31.

City officials have been taking steps to show that Chicago takes police misconduct seriously. In May, the city formally apologized for 20 years of torture led by a white former police commander, mainly against black men. The council unanimously approved a $5.5 million fund to provide reparations for the victims.

Before the McDonald video release, McCarthy and Emanuel also called for firing Dante Servin, an officer acquitted in April of involuntary manslaughter in the 2012 off-duty shooting of Rekia Boyd, a black woman on the West Side.

On Sunday, the city announced plans to expand its body-worn camera program from one police district to an additional six by the middle of next year. The dash-cam video released last week didn’t have audio.

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